Humanitarian Assistance to Africa in the Age of Trump


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The foreign assistance budget for sub-Saharan Africa has not drastically changed since President George W. Bush quadrupled the amount the United States was giving to African countries. Now, however, the amount of the Trump 2018 budget earmarked for humanitarian assistance to Africa will be significantly less.

The drop from $8 billion to $5.2 billion highlights a change in the U.S. approach to humanitarian assistance. Relief Web defines humanitarian assistance as, “Aid that seeks to save lives and alleviate the suffering of a crisis-affected population. Humanitarian assistance must be provided in accordance with basic humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, and neutrality.”

Experts say instead the Trump administration is tending towards economic support funds. Economic support funds act as “short-term investments based on national security calculations.” This shift, combined with Trump’s plan to increase the Pentagon budget by $52 billion, demonstrates how the United States will place a greater emphasis on military tactics and pay considerably less attention to foreign assistance for its own sake.

These developments concerned many at aid organizations, not only for the future of their organizations but for the global role from which the United States is stepping back. The United Nations fears the loss of the humanitarian assistance to Africa it currently provides. An estimated $4.4 billion is needed in order to address starvation and famine in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. Currently, the U.S. funds 28 percent of peacekeeping in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and the Central African Republic. Trump’s budget limits the spending for peacekeeping to 25 percent.

Other agencies may lose federal funding for their Africa programs altogether. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the United States Institute for Peace are two such organizations. United States foreign aid totals a significant portion of global spending; a decrease in aid for humanitarian assistance to Africa could have profound effects. For example, the U.S. contributes 35 percent of global funding to fight malaria, which has led to a decrease from 694,000 to 292,000 deaths per year among children under five.

Yet, the amount spent on foreign aid is about half of what other governments spend relative to national income. The United States spends less than one-fifth of one percent of national income on official development assistance; less than one percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid.

Ultimately, though the cost is low, the benefit of humanitarian assistance is high. Numerous military officials have noted the connection between an increase in foreign aid and an increase in national security. As Econofact reports, “The vital national security role of civilian-led development assistance was underscored recently by more than 170 former U.S. 3- and 4-star generals from across the ideological spectrum.”

Thus, there is a critical need for advocacy organizations to better address the decrease in humanitarian assistance proposed in the Trump budget for the 2018 fiscal year. The United States has a standing obligation to commit to humanitarian assistance to Africa both currently and in the future.

Anika Lanser
Photo: Flickr


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